Since Sonic Youth’s unofficial, but pretty evident end after the divorce of its power couple Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, the band’s members have been keeping fairly busy. Lee Ranaldo was the first member to release a solo record, the respectable Between the Tides and the Time, in 2012, which followed with Last Night On Earth with a backing band now dubbed the Dust. Drummer Steve Shelley played on both records and most recently lent stick work to Sun Kil Moon’s excellent Benji.
As for the power couple themselves: Gordon formed the drone duo Body/Head who released their debut album Coming Apart last year to much acclaim. Thurston Moore schizophrenically moved from one project to the next, first converting his Demolished Thoughts touring band into the punky, dada-ist Chelsea Light Moving, followed by a stint playing in and producing the last album for black metal group Twilight. On The Best Day, Moore takes his first dip into his now primary musical outlet, his solo career. Not surprisingly, the results are similar to what one would expect to hear on a followup to The Eternal, mixed in with a continuation of his late period acoustic interests.
The opening harmonic notes of “Speak to the Wild” which starts off the record give off a fuzzy nostalgic feeling for those who felt abandoned by their surrogate indie rock parents. The song itself is a warm return to the midtempo post-college that became a staple of Sonic Youth’s aughts work but its eight-minute length feels needlessly repetitive instead of arcing. If Moore was dead-set on having the album begin with a lengthy return-to-form number, the second track “Forevermore” might have been a better bet. 11 minutes in length, its monolithic churning is paranoid and dramatic, with lyrics that are unclear as to whether he’s in admiration or disgust of his subject that’s being loved and worshipped in their own palace. One can make insinuations about Moore’s ex-wife having a renaissance in public interest after the divorce, but I won’t dare to try to approach that definitively.
Overall, The Best Day plays mostly like a hyrbrid between Moore’s solo excursions and a SY record minus the other two songwriters (Steve Shelley serves as drummer as he did with Moore’s other Sonic Youth-esque solo record, 1995’s Psychic Hearts). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as there’s now a void that Kim Gordon and Lee Ranaldo are only partially filling with their new fulltime gigs. “Detonation” is the record’s punky rocker, akin to the Gordon-sung “Sacred Trickster”; “The Best Day” is their sporty mid-tempo rocker, which actually features one of the album’s most surprising turns – a straight up guitar solo by band member James Sedwards, something Moore has hinted at that there could be more of on future releases. Bassist Deb Googe of My Bloody Valentine adds some elements to the mix, most notably her upper register noodling on instrumental “Grace Lake,” which is great to hear considering her playing is scarcely heard on actual MBV records. The album’s true “solo” tracks also form decent scene changers with the acoustic “Tape” and “Vocabularies” which both feature lyrics from London poet Radieux Radio.
In general, The Best Day feels more like a stopgap and freshening up for Moore than a bold new statement, but it’s nice to hear the same familiar sound again with a promising lineup. In lieu of some sort of reconciliation (one can only dream), it’s a promising return to form, if not the most jolting.